Baby improving after 14 hours in overturned car in icy river

Published March 10, 2015 7:16AM (EDT)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Police responding to a report from a fisherman about an overturned car in an icy Utah river were stunned to discover an 18-month-old girl dangling in a car seat inside, unconscious but alive.

They found the baby in the back seat and a woman dead in the front seat after flipping over the car. A firefighter jumped into the river and cut the car-seat straps, freeing the baby who was wearing only a flannel onesie and no hat or gloves.

Officers then formed a line in the river and handed the cold child from one person to the next until she was on the shoreline and in emergency workers' arms.

Two days later, the toddler was recovering at a hospital, though authorities still don't know exactly how she survived hanging upside-down for nearly 14 hours in frigid temperatures with no food or water.

"It's heartbreaking. Was she crying most the night?" Spanish Fork Police Officer Tyler Beddoes said. "It's a miracle. ... She was needed for sure elsewhere."

Beddoes, one of the officers involved in the rescue, on Monday recounted the ordeal.

Police believe the crash occurred late Friday when the child's mother, 25-year-old Lynn Groesbeck, struck a cement barrier on a bridge and careened into the river in Spanish Fork, about 50 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Groesbeck had visited her parents in Salem and was about halfway back to her home in Springville when it happened, Spanish Fork police Lt. Matt Johnson said.

Investigators don't know what caused the crash, he said. There were no skid marks, and the midsize car had no signs of mechanical failures.

Police don't suspect drugs or alcohol as a factor but were awaiting toxicology results. Groesbeck might have been tired or distracted, Johnson said, adding that authorities weren't ruling anything out.

Even though the road that goes over the bridge gets plenty of traffic, no one saw the wreck because the cement barrier obstructed the view below, Johnson said.

If a fisherman hadn't chosen that river Saturday morning, it could have been several more hours before the car was found, he said.

The overturned car was perched on the bank and rocks. As the girl dangled inside, icy water rushed just below her head through broken car windows. The temperatures were near freezing throughout the night and through the morning.

"She must have been just out of the water enough to be getting oxygen," Beddoes said.

When the four officers responded to the vehicle, they didn't know how long it had been there or who was inside.

After freeing the girl from the car, responders rushed her to an ambulance and performed CPR, Beddoes said.

On Monday, Lily Groesbeck was in stable condition and improving, according to hospital officials. Beddoes said the girl was opening her eyes and doing well.

Lynn Groesbeck was enrolled at Provo College with a goal of becoming a medical assistant, her sister Jill Sanderson told the Deseret News.

Beddoes said the family has thanked him and the other officers for helping save Lily.

"Knowing that she was trapped in there 14 hours, the cold water running through car, just blows me away," Beddoes said.

By Brady McCombs

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